Nottingham Couriers’ Network voted to affiliate to the IWGB union on Monday 25 March, another step in increasing our organisation on a national level in the struggle for better pay from Deliveroo. This follows a significant growth in membership, in Nottingham and elsewhere, and improved coordination nationally. Our national structures are progressing and we have a national programme of “rolling strikes”. Several places are holding demonstrations, and other types of industrial actions as well as strikes, for example systematically rejecting certain types of order over a given time period.
In Bristol, we have been consolidating our organisation, and building for a large meeting on Wednesday 27, when we will plan future strike action. While many couriers recognise that we have won concessions from Deliveroo, they recognise that they are not enough. There is substantial appetite for more strikes. Another big topic of conversation, and something we will discuss at Wednesday’s meeting, is motorbike theft.
Several motorbikes are stolen from couriers every week in Bristol, sometimes while parked, sometimes while riding. Sometimes assailants have knives, and motorcyclists fear for their personal safety as well as their bike. On Friday, around 55 motorcyclists, overwhelmingly Brazilian, went to the police station to demand action on this. The police gave a response which sounded like saying there is very little they could do about it. We then rode – me on a pedal bike – to two council buildings, where we were also largely fobbed off, again. Finally, we rode to BBC’s local offices, where they interviewed some motorcyclists.
Deliveroo provides free insurance which covers injuries while at work. This is better than nothing, but is insufficient in itself. It does not cover the cost of equipment, or of money lost when unable to work because of theft or unrelated illness. When a courier has their motorbike stolen while working for Deliveroo, they must therefore cover the cost of a new bike, unless they pay for private insurance themselves. If they cannot buy a new one immediately, they will be unable to work until they do. Motorbikes are a necessary expense for motorbike couriers, and theft is an unavoidable risk. Deliveroo should cover these costs, not transfer them to individual couriers. More loading bays, and free access to them, would also improve the situation.
The inaction on behalf of the police is undoubtedly in large part because the overwhelming majority of victims are Brazilian migrant workers. If a middle-class English driver had an expensive car stolen, police would not be so blasé. It is important to recognise and call out the racial, national, and class factors behind this neglect. However, the solution is neither to call for more police and stricter sentencing on the one hand, nor to advocate punitive vigilante action on the other. Fundamentally, the police serve to repress the working class and workers’ struggles, and strengthening them in the long run would harm us.
In the current situation though, we cannot seriously organise alternatives to the police, with any genuine democratic oversight or due process. Recognising this tension, we must encourage people to have no faith in the police as an institution, and to take a critical perspective towards them. Beyond calling out the police’s discrimination, advocating more extensive covering of costs, and better provision of loading bays, there is more we can say. Motorbike theft does not exist in a vacuum. Many of the thieves are very young “joy riders”: some motorbikes have been set on fire, others thrown in the river. Being in a state of doing such horrible, dangerous and illegal things “for fun”, or for money, is often driven by desperation, or a sense of meaningless. Wider social changes, from youth and social centres, to tackling poverty and gaining economic equality, and beyond, would help.